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Chicago Tribune  The Arts   Sunday, March 18, 1984 
Section 13  Page 33

‘Lawful money' 
on '50s bills now 
is legal tender 

By Roger Boye 

This week's column 
answers questions about 
coins and currency. 

Q-I have several $10 
bills of series 1950 with an in-
scription that reads in part, 
"This note is redeemable in 
lawful money at the United 
States Treasury or at any Feder-
al Reserve bank." Are those 
words still honored? And what is 
"lawful money"? 
-S.G., Merrillville, Ind. 

A-Uncle Sam used that 
phrase in the 1950s and earlier to 
certify each bill as "legal ten-
der," paper exchangeable for 
goods and services and honored 
by the government in payment 
of taxes. Modern-day currency 
says simply, "This note is legal 
tender for all debts, public and 

The United States is one of 
only a few nations that has 
never demonitized any regular 
series of paper money. All bills 
issued by the federal govern-
ment under the Constitution can 
be exchanged at banks or the 
U.S. Treasury for freshly print-
ed Federal Reserve notes. 

Q-What would be the value of 
an 1855 privately minted Califor-
nia gold coin? Also, what's the 
history of such items? 
-S.J.T., Chicago 

A-The value would range 
from worthless to thousands of 
dollars, depending on the design, 
denomination and authenticity. 
Show it to a coin dealer or other 
expert for an appraisal. 

Starting in 1849, many Califor-
nia businessmen issued their 
own gold coins to relieve acute 
shortages of government money 
in the West. The practice was 
outlawed in 1864 but continued 
until about 1882 when bureau-
crats began enforcing the law. 

Most genuine specimens of 
"California gold" are prized 
keepsakes, but in recent years 
pranksters have flooded the 
market with thousands of 
worthless imitations. 

Q-We uncovered a fascinat-
ing coin while refinishing a desk 
that has been in our basement 
for 35 years. The 1863 copper 
piece is slightly larger than a 
Lincoln cent and says, "Horrors 
of war; Blessings of peace." Can 
you identify it? -J.M., Rochelle 

A-You've found a Civil War 
token, one of maybe 10,000 dif-
ferent types issued by mer-
chants to make change between 
1861 and 1864 because people 
hoarded government coins. Most 
of the so-called "copperheads" 
carried political or patriotic slo-
gans, often with the issuer's 

Experts say the bronze or cop-
per tokens in "fine condition" 
usually fetch from $1 to $3 
on today's hobby market. The 
rarer silver specimens might re-
tail for $60 or more. 

* Members of the Lake Coun-
ty Coin Club will conduct their 
annual show from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. next 
Sunday at the Swedish Glee 
Club, 621 Belvidere Rd., 
Waukegan. As many as 18 
dealers will sell collectibles and 
the club will award door prizes. 
Admission is free.